Middle East
2:22 am
Tue January 15, 2013

Grim Situation Starts To Lift In Aleppo, Syria

Originally published on Tue January 15, 2013 4:57 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's get a deeper sense of what it feels like to live in a city at war. A few days ago, we heard from NPR's Deborah Amos, recently out of Syria, where she met children so scarred by conflict that when they painted pictures of people, they showed them bleeding. Deborah also mentioned commerce going on, a sense that life continues which is what NPR's Kelly McEvers discovered when she visited the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.

Kelly McEvers is on the line. Welcome to back to the program, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what does it feel like, what is it seem like when you go into a city like Aleppo?

MCEVERS: Yeah, we were driving in the other day and our Syrian colleague handed us this bag of bananas and a box of chocolate bars. And he said, Here, you know, take these - you're going to need it. Aleppo is starving.

And then we drive into the city and we are just shocked to see a place that was full of life. There were people in the streets and there was food everywhere. There's food in the marketplace; as there was freshly butchered meat, oranges, apples, potatoes, radishes, parsnips.

One morning, we went out to get breakfast. And, you know, the typical breakfast is foul. It's a fava bean dish you eat with fresh tomatoes. And our colleague, producer Rima Marrouch, said to a guy, you know, we're going here to get - he said, no, don't go there to get the foul. You need to go to this place to get the foul - its better over there.

And she said, This is a war zone, you know, how can you choose which place you eat breakfast? And he said, This is all right. You know, we realized Aleppo is one of the oldest cities in the world. This is a city of merchants that's not only survived for centuries and centuries, but has thrived. And we just got the sense that you really just can't keep the place down.

I do have to say, I don't want to be too flip here. I mean we were the lucky ones. This food that we saw was to have two and a half to three times more expensive than it was before the conflict started. So, you know, there was a lot of people in that city who can look at that food but who couldn't afford to buy it.

INSKEEP: Well, you've been describing in recent days on NPR a city that is partly held by the government, partly held by rebels, with battle lines in between.

MCEVERS: Right, it's a city divided in half. And so what we seen, as we reported yesterday, is a lot of the fighting has left the center of the city it is now the outskirts of some of these government bases. And even though there's not as much fighting, you can still see just other utter destruction in some of the neighborhoods in Aleppo.

I mean, just entire buildings reduced to rubble. Abandoned buildings being used as the bases for rebels, and looted and trashed. Water mains broken, garbage everywhere. People are cutting down trees and burning school furniture to make fires. And still, every once in a while, there are these horrific, indiscriminate attacks by the government in civilian areas. You've got airstrikes from warplanes, you know, mortars, rockets, sometimes missiles. It's basically collective punishment on the civilians for housing the rebels.

We went to one neighborhood where an attack came at night and here's what we found.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

MCEVERS: An entire building just liquidated. And for about a block either way, the fronts of the buildings have just been blown off. And there is rubble everywhere; scraps of a curtain hanging from the balcony, electrical wires dangling.

You know, this is why we're seeing such a high death toll every day in Syria; these indiscriminate attacks from the government. And then you also have, you know, the big clashes between government forces and rebel troops, you know, mainly at these key bases. You know, we're seeing 100, 200 people dying still every day in Syria. But in many areas of Aleppo, still, life is trying to get back to a kind of normal.

INSKEEP: Trying to get back to a kind of normal, but that's got to be difficult with a war going on - in some cases, a few blocks away.

MCEVERS: Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are, you know, some major services that have not come back. For nearly two years, Syrians have been going to the streets every Friday to protest against the government. They say, you know: The people want the fall of the regime. Well, this is what we heard this past Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

MCEVERS: They're saying the people want electricity and flour, flour to make bread. Bread is the mainstay of the diet in Syria. People have been without power for almost a month now in Aleppo. And it is cold, let me tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Then, of course, there's the bread issue that to some degree has been alleviated by guess who? These hard-line Islamist groups, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization the United States considers a terrorist group.

They've realize that the people do need services and that the way to win the hearts and minds of the people is to provide them with bread. And so they're doing that on the ground. We'll be reporting on this a lot in the coming days.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers just returned from Aleppo, Syria. Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And today, we have a reminder of the kinds of indiscriminate attacks that Kelly mentioned because Syrian activists today, say that dozens of people were killed or hurt in two bombings at the government-controlled Aleppo University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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